In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Today’s Gospel is one of those which prepares us for Lent. These readings of the Gospel beginning with last week are not simply disjointed readings; they show us how to make ourselves ready and like a ladder lead us to the moment when we shall be able to meet face to face the greatest reality of history, the greatest event of it – the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would like to attract your attention to two things in the present Gospel.
Zaccheus was small of stature yet he wanted to see Christ and to achieve this he climbed a sycamore tree to be able, above the heads of the crowd, to see Christ, to meet Him face to face. This is an event of the life of Christ, but this is also an image which we can usefully take advantage of. We are all too small. We are small in stature not only physically but spiritually, in every respect, our hearts are too small, our minds are too small. If we wish to meet Christ and to see Him as He is, it is not enough for us to try – we must climb, we must take advantage of a height which is not ours in order to see what otherwise we could neither see, nor understand. This height which is apparently, seemingly as humble, as ordinary as the tree on which Zaccheus climbed, is the Church. The Church with all its teaching, all its experience, expressed not only verbally in doctrine, but expressed in all the ways in which the Church lives, because to live a Christian life is life that takes us from every angle.
Zaccheus might not have done it any more than very often we don’t do it, for the same reason: he might have been too proud, too vain, he might have counted on his own abilities, he might have thought, as many did and do and will do, that they do not need the humble help which is offered them, because they can reach soaring to the heights. Zaccheus yet was not defeated by vanity, by pride, because something had gone on in him as we can see at the end of this reading, making it absolutely imperative for him, of necessity to meet Christ. He was ripe and at that moment, as everyone knows when this moment comes – we are prepared to face not only criticism and hatred and opposition, we are prepared to face even the ridicule of becoming like none around us, to behave in a way that is strange to our normal surroundings. This person had the position of what we should call nowadays a bank manager and yet he was not afraid or ashamed of all the fun he was giving to the crowd because he was prepared to go beyond that. It mattered too much to him to meet Christ to worry about what those, who had not reached his stage of ripe anguish for eternity, would think. And Christ saw him alone in the crowd because he alone had overcome vanity and pride in order to meet Him. The reason why he had we can see in the last words of the Gospel, in his readiness to put all his life right in order to be worthy of the Guest who now entered his house.
Is not that one of the images, one after the other, that should teach us an important lesson? The fact that we are all so small and yet prefer to stand upright in our pride, in our vanity, in our blindness, rather than take advantage of the experience of centuries of things we cannot understand, of things which seem to be so humble, so far away from the greatness we are looking for, because what we look for is greatness out of our very small stature instead of looking for salvation which can find us anywhere we are. We are stopped by this vanity and pride. Is it not something we must learn to defeat? And pride and vanity cannot be defeated by simple reflection, by meditation, or by prayer. It is only when pride and vanity are exposed, when we despise them as much as others may despise us, that we can overcome them, because then only do we stand before nothing but the judgement of God and the judgement of Truth spoken in our conscience. And in the end if we want to bear fruits for this anguish of God, this longing for God, then we must be prepared to do something, not to expect mystical illumination, not to expect spiritual experience which is beyond us, but to do those things which are within our reach.
Zaccheus promised to put all his life right. Are we prepared to face our life under the judgement of God, put it right, accept the humiliation that will lead us to humility, accept to recognise the smallness of our spiritual, intellectual, emotional and other stature and take advantage of the help which is offered us by the wisdom of centuries which have led millions of people into the Kingdom of God? Amen.